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Looking Good on Paper
By Mike Pasini, Editor
Imaging Resource Newsletter

In the days when photographers worked in the dark, there were frequently knockdown barroom brawls over the nearly imperceptible differences between, say, an Ilford or Kodak photo paper. Now nobody talks about paper.

There aren't many choices in paper if you print on a dye-sub printer. You buy what the printer manufacturer sells you. Glossy it is, too.

"There are two basic types of papers: uncoated and coated sheets. You may know them as plain and glossy."

But in the inkjet world, you have more choices than you may realize. And it's worth experimenting a little with various papers to find a few that work for you.

A couple of warnings first:

  • Every printer is engineered a bit differently. "As Norm Abram might put it, "Be sure to read and understand your printer's manual" (well, it's sort of a power tool).

  • To test a paper, use the single-sheet feeder (if you have one), and make sure you aren't feeding damaged material into the printer. It's important to let papers acclimate to your environment before actually using them. Open the box, the envelope, or the packaging the day before you intend to use it. Paper is, after all, made with water, and then dried to a specific moisture content -- losing about two pounds of water for every pound of paper. It curls and wrinkles and can be difficult to feed if it doesn't have time to make itself at home.

  • Some printer manufacturers warn against using embossed or perforated (tear along the line) papers. If yours does, don't use them.

  • Keep in mind that your software driver's printer settings have a lot to say about what happens to your print. If you aren't familiar with all the options your driver provides, now's the time to learn. You may find different settings for different paper surfaces, for example, as well as different options for color calibration. Experiment with those settings until you can get a repeatable and predictable result from your printer.

"Because each side of a sheet can have different characteristics, make sure you know which side is up."

Now you're ready to play with some paper.

There are two basic types of papers: uncoated and coated sheets. You may know them as plain and glossy. But whatever you call them, there are more grades than you might imagine.

Uncoated sheets can have very smoothly finished surfaces. But no matter how smooth they are, they absorb more ink than the coated, or glossy, sheets. Which is the primary reason your driver wants to know what it's printing on. Does it have to really lay on the ink or not?

Keep an eye out for the whiteness of a sheet. Some sheets have a noticeably warmer tone than others, and some sheets are bleached so much, they fluoresce in certain light and seem whiter than white in sunlight. Compare a couple of white sheets by laying them next to each other to see what we mean. No two whites are quite the same.

A few special additives are important to a paper's printing characteristics, too. Rosins add water repellency to hold out ink. Clay fillers improve smoothness, opacity, and ink affinity. Titanium dioxide may be added for opacity and brightness. Not to mention dyes and pigments and the alum needed to fix them.

The types of finishes a sheet can have are much more varied than your typical supply store usually keeps on hand, unless the store caters to small offset printers. There are at least a half dozen finishes for uncoated sheets, each producing different degrees of smoothness.

"It's important to let papers acclimate to your environment before actually using them."

Because each side of a sheet can have different characteristics, make sure you know which side is up. They even have different names: the wire side (bottom) and the felt side (top).

The weight of the sheet affects how it handles. Most so-called photo paper is heavier than standard laser paper. But it's possible to mount a lightweight glossy paper and get the same effect.

It can be difficult to chose a paper at an office superstore. After all, what's the difference between an inkjet paper and a laser printer paper? One has to hold out a wet ink and the other has to withstand heat, but who's to say you can't run the laser sheet in your inkjet?

So look around for sample packs (usually sold in envelopes) or visit paper manufacturer sites (like Hammermill at http://www.hammermill.com/ or Neenah at http://www.neenahpaper.com/) that sell samples. Run tests.

Then let us know what works best for you. We promise not to pick any fights.

This article is reprinted from The Imaging Resource Digital Photography Newsletter,
Advanced Mode Column, published March 24, 2000

 

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